Julianne Moore shines in this real-life story of a dying cop who fights to leave her pension to her lesbian partner — but director Peter Sollett can’t bring the rest of the film to life.
“Freeheld” is one of those movies that never quite clicks, and frustratingly so; all the individual ingredients seem to be in place. The story, a real-life tale of a New Jersey cop dying of lung cancer in 2005 and determined to leave her pension to her lesbian domestic partner, is moving and inspiring; the cast, led by Julianne Moore and Ellen Page as Laurel Hester and Stacie Andree, is strong; the timing, on the heels of the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling giving gay couples the right to marry, couldn’t be better.
But there’s something flat about Peter Sollett’s direction, which leaves some lovely performances stranded. Moore (oddly styled; her Laurel looks to be in the 1980s) brings her usual delicate touch: Laurel, just the tiniest bit out of breath in her early scenes, gazes at Page’s Stacie as if the world finally makes sense. Page conveys Stacie’s devotion to the fading Laurel with a sweet fierceness, and the always-splendid Michael Shannon is vivid as Laurel’s partner on the force, for whom the women’s fight is a revelation.
Too many of the other characters, though, never come to life: The bigoted county officials who rule on pension benefits are depicted without nuance, as is Steve Carell’s over-the-top turn as a civil-rights activist who takes on Laurel and Stacie’s cause. With all the noise and posturing, the women’s love story fades to the background, and Sollett spends far too much time having the characters deliver speeches, rather than interact with each other in a way that feels real. In the end credits, we see photos of the real Laurel and Stacie, in happier days, and you can see love glowing around them. Too bad that the movie, well-intentioned as it is, never quite catches that spark.
Movie Review ★★½
‘Freeheld,’ with Julianne Moore, Ellen Page, Michael Shannon, Steve Carell. Directed by Peter Sollett, from a screenplay by Ron Nyswaner, based on the short film by Cynthia Wade. 103 minutes. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language and sexuality. Several theaters.